On Becoming: Ex-Mormon Girl Part 3 : PR Child Soldier

Warning. This is going to be meandering both through time and in topic. It seems that I was pretty triggered by the last couple of installments and I have been working on this one in fits and starts. It's not cohesive and if I try to make it that way it's never going to see the light of day so...yeah.

Before I continue I should note something.  What I'm doing right now will be considered by many people as participating in "Anti-Mormon rhetoric". Growing up I was taught to fear and shun and flee from any hint of anti-Mormon rhetoric.  It was literally the worst thing a person could do. Worse than "fornication" or murder in my mind. IT WAS TERRIBLE. **P.S: when I, as a totally "good Mormon" came out on this blog as being a Democrat years ago, I was accused as being a "wolf in sheep's clothing" so yeah, there are a ton of Mormons for whom what I am doing right now is the ultimate in rebellious sinfulness. They aren't even praying for a person like me at this point. I deserve whatever I get. That's the mentality. Carry on....:)

When I was still in first or second grade I think I was dimly aware of a lot of angst of the anti-Mormon movie "The God Makers" and I remember my aunt coming over to watch something on TV and being super stressed out about what people would say about it. I was warned never ever to watch anything like that. Don't read it, don't listen to people who say they know bad stuff about the church. They will only lead you astray.

I was obsessively obedient to this instruction until one day around 17, I remember coming across a pamphlet in our kitchen, Somebody must have come over and wanted to discuss it with my parents. I think it was an anti-Mormon pamphlet and it was about the sketchy past Mormons have had in terms of race. There were some deeply disturbing quotes in there by names I recognized as esteemed past (and possibly present) leaders of our church.   At the time I was living in Swaziland, I was a definite minority as a white person and I was dating a really great Black South African guy. What's more, I was attending a school which had specifically been built as an educational shelter outside of Apartheid South Africa. I was attending it with Nelson Mandela's grandson and his stepdaughter.  We had always been a really liberal family, racism was not considered in any way acceptable in our home.  I remember my hand shaking violently as I read the pamphlet. I could not believe it. I knew that the church had not allowed Blacks to have the Priesthood until the late 70's and when I had asked why I had received vague answers about it being illegal or something. Seriously. I had heard all sorts of airy explanations which sounded plausible to my naive (brainwashed) childhood mind but this seemed extremely wrong, there was more to it than just not allowing Blacks to have the Priesthood, way more. I confronted my parents. I don't remember their explanations but it was tense and I remember feeling as though I was in the wrong somehow for questioning and asking I was on the defense here, not the Church.

This is how it always went when I brought up major concerns. When I brought up polygamy (which I was deeply, deeply troubled by) I was told to just relax, have faith, God would work it out.  The doctrine I had learned implied that polygamy would actually be required in Heaven but lots of people assured me that only the most worthy people would be required to do that and they would be happy to do so. (Implying of course that either I wouldn't make it to that state or when I did I would be cool with it.) The inherent inequality of polygamy struck such a nerve with me, but I would swallow the apologists explanations of why it had happened too. So noble of those men to take in all those aging widows in the early church. There was never any discussion on why Joseph Smith saw fit to marry a 14 year old child. Which he did.

Back to the present time. When I began voicing public criticism of the church in the last couple of years (really gingerly at first, super vanilla stuff for the most part) I was unfriended on facebook in droves. I would go to see how this person or that person was doing, people who had been marvelously supportive and kind to me over the years, and find that we we weren't friends anymore. There usually hadn't been a big deal made of it, (Mormons aren't really ones for confrontation) and in fairness, when I first officially "outed" myself on Face-book in December last year,  I had invited people who felt as if this gave them the obligation to gallop in and white-knight for the church to relieve themselves of that obligation by unfriending me. And many did. I get it. Completely. The shunning from most people didn't bother me at all, but the lack of acceptance from others was devastating. It hurt like hell, but I understood it.  It is exhausting to feel that sense of obligation. To constantly be on the defensive. I know because that state of being pretty much defined my childhood and teenagehood as a Mormon. I was a soldier for the church. A PR soldier. If people say bad stuff, stand firm, deny, reframe it, shine it up, make it pretty, normalize. The Church is always right. The Church Leaders are ALWAYS ALWAYS right. And it is your sacred responsibility to not just believe that but make others believe it too.

Sadly, on top of all that crazy pressure, even the idea of  the church just never was for me. It always felt wrong. From my youngest memories, the term, "The Only True Church" (often followed up with "on the face of the Earth, Mormons freaking love that expression) gave me the cringiest feeling.  So exclusive. It was embarrassing to me in its hypocrisy. Here I was, a little girl, maybe 5 or 6 or 7 and I'm singing, "Jesus says love everyone" and being told about the Only True Church and referring to myself as a member (and others as "non-members"). And how about all the people all over the world who had no idea about this true church? Or who really believed in THEIR true church? And why did God even need people to be in churches, couldn't they just be nice to other people and love him?

Later, people would come at me with accusations of wanting to fit in, or be cool and politically correct. Please. I was freaking 5 years old and it wasn't adding up. What's more I felt like an outsider in my own community when I even thought this stuff. Like I'm some kind of cool 5 year old rebel without a cause? Don't be crazy.

Straight up hellion right there.

Easter. I was probably eleven I remember sitting on my bed after eating way too much sugar on a day that should be joyful and carefree for kids but I was feverishly writing in my journal. Goals and gratitude. I was trying to pretend to be so spiritual and good. I had talked myself into believing that somehow Jesus was going to read this journal and totally forget my sinning ways. SPOILER ALERT: THERE WERE NO SINNING WAYS. I was a good kid. Like, a really good kid but I felt bad, dirty, sinful, unworthy and ashamed constantly. I own that this was partly because of my personality and partly because of the fact that I was sexually abused just as I entered puberty until I left home. That certainly didn't help, but I didn't ever factor that into the equation. I just knew that I was the worst, and I was frantic and scared about it.  It just now struck me that if you read the early years of my blog you will see more of the same. Except by that point I wasn't aware that I was doing it to persuade God and myself, by then I had pushed that shit way down deep and I thought I was being 100% sincere in my gushings about the church and its teachings. I might be saddest about that stage of my life. I don't know.

Being 13 or so. A friend of mine teasing me in French class about the temple and how a "naked Mormon Priest jumps into a jacuzzi with some dead bodies and baptizes them". Ok THIS DOES NOT HAPPEN and he knew that too. He was being a 13 year old asshole and we are still friends and I think he still thinks its really funny but that was hella traumatic for me. The whole class laughing. Me trying to do damage control, trying to repair the church's image, wanting to die instead. I was 13 man. It sucks to be 13 without all the other shit I had to deal with. God. I could go back and slap him now and I probably should have, and told all those other laughing idiots where to get off too.  Better yet I should have joined in and said, "well not quite but yeah, it's nucking futs can you even believe my life?!" Amazing how much clarity one has for one's 13 year old self at age 40. ;)

My parents wouldn't let me date until I was 18. This was 2 years ahead of the official Mormon dating age but they had read it differently. It was ridiculous. Ultimately I had plenty of boyfriends before age 18 and my parents were pretty lenient about it and boys were always welcome to chill at our house, But the whole not being officially allowed to date thing was awkward and embarrassing and weird as hell and there were plenty of times I just pretended not to like the guy rather than have to come clean with the real reason why he and I couldn't go to the movies alone together. The same issue arose with "modesty". Again my parents ended up being quite lenient in later years but god forbid I ever consider a bikini or a sleeveless formal dress. Oh hell to the no, man.  All the same, none of this was terrible. Just stressful and like I said, being a teenager is just stressful as it is. Throw in being regularly abused and then being some kind of crazy Mormon freak who actually wasn't crazy or a freak and was trying to successfully straddle both worlds. It's a nightmare.

When we lived in Swaziland the teasing and scrutiny regarding the church got even worse. There were a bunch of Evangelical missionaries in the area and those guys are VICIOUS man. Turf War! My friends soon became aware of the fact that I was Mormon and some of them nudged me relentlessly about it. I don't remember them being overtly mean or disrespectful but I do remember every goddamn thing being attributed to our Mormon-ness and it made me mental. Once a national magazine came out with a cover story something along the lines of "A Mormon Temple Bride Tells All". Holy shit-balls. Panic Stations! This was BAD.

 Look, let me explain something here. I didn't even know what went on for a Mormon Temple Bride. All I knew was the temple was awesome, I was going to have to be squeaky clean to go there, it was super risky dating non-Mormon dudes because there was every possibility that I would want to marry one and he wouldn't want to convert and then No temple marriage for ME and well then....it was an unthinkable tragedy. No eternal marriage, no eternal family. Generations would be lost to non-belief. It was UNTHINKABLE.  All my non-Mormon boyfriends were immediately made aware that this thing would never go anywhere unless they converted. I'm sure they were all,..."haha, FINE WITH ME, escape route included!'' Anyway I remember hustling to the magazine stands at the store and hiding all the copies of that magazine. (Averting my eyes lest I inadvertently see some of the "SACRED NOT SECRET"  (another one for the Mormon Phrase Manual), information included in this fallen girl's account.   When you go to the Temple you make solemn convenants never reveal what you have seen or heard in there. Like on penalty of eternal damnation. Up until not long before I first went to the Temple you even had to mime slitting your own throat and disembowling yourself should you ever do such a thing. Holy shit.  DOES THIS SOUND OK TO YOU?  In fairness, apparently it didn't sit well with a lot of people 'cos they dropped that.

And then came the Gay issue. But that's for next installment because this one is already long and crazy enough and I gotta post this thing already. And here I go...editing be damned as I'm sure you have discovered by now ;)

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